Lizz Wright – Freedom and Surrender (2015)

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Freedom and Surrender, the follow-up to 2010’s Fellowship, finds Lizz Wright in excellent voice as always and exercising her writing chops.

This time, Wright engaged Larry Klein as producer and a who’s who cast of Klein’s go to experts such as composer J.D. Souther, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Dan Lutz, percussionist Pete Korpela, guitarists Dean Parks and Jesse Harris; and keyboardists Kenny Banks, Pete Kuzma, and Billy Childs. The result is a stirring and eclectic mix of adult contemporary and jazz stylings which is not to be missed.

Freedom and Surrender kicks off with the defiant song “Freedom.” Written by Toshi Reagon, the song is one of this album’s funkiest, as the rhythm section works to meet Lizz Wright’s passionate vocal. Wright was determined to exercise her writing prowess with this, her debut Concord Records release, but wisely engages collaborator Jesse Harris for the heartfelt ballad “The Game.” While that song is soulful yet stirring, Wright’s subsequent song “The New Game” has a different feel – with a mid-tempo sheen over top a Hammond organ pulse. The latter, defiant yet optimistic, is one of three penned by Lizz Wright with her longtime writing partner David Batteau as well as Larry Klein.

“Lean In,” a collaboration with Harris, features a slow burning and slinky vibe which underscores Lizz Wright’s sassy, muti-tracked vocal. The vibe is so good one almost overlooks the reassuring yet longing lyrics. J.D. Souther collaborated with Wright and Klein in writing “Right Where You Are.” The tender ballad is a perfect vehicle for Wright to be at her expressive best. A Fender Rhodes-type piano and three-four time also complement duet partner Gregory Porter’s vocal approach. Porter and Wright deliver this song perfectly, with just enough tension to feel authentic.

“River Man,” the Nick Drake classic, is delivered on Freedom and Surrender as if it was composed by Lizz Wright. The song is slow and steamy, with a stunning jazzy arrangement. Wright’s vocal technique is perfectly suited for this track, and the composition is further buoyed by a trumpet solo from German trumpeter Till Bronner. “Somewhere Down the Mystic” shifts the mood ever so slightly, with its acoustic guitar foundation. Wright seems to sing from a different place with a more weary, folky delivery which is perfectly effective on this gem.

“To Love Somebody” has a gospel feel at first, then shifts to become a slow and inspirational soul track. Wright’s delivery and arrangement is perfect complement to this Bee Gees classic. “Here and Now” gets good use of Jesse Harris’ wah wah pedal-driven guitar and the Colaiuta/Lutz rhythm section. Lizz Wright’s vocals — which never fail to impress — are restrained, building the song’s tension.

Freedom and Surrender closes out with “Surrender,” perfectly book-ending this look into where Lizz Wright is now. The Toshi Reagon composition is another slow burner, but it’s focused and soulful. The chorus and band build to a powerful end to a powerful album. Wright makes you feel it down to the bone, completing a journey that covers a lot of musical ground. With Lizz Wright, the trip is always rewarding and often exceptional.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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